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Car reviews - Jeep - Grand Cherokee - SRT8

Our Opinion

We like
Sonorous Hemi V8, looks, luxury, comfort, image, starting price, exclusivity, brakes, front seats
Room for improvement
Vague steering, old-school touch-screen, fuel bills

5 Oct 2012

TO ME, in a world of idle-stop, low-rolling resistance tyres and hybrid drivetrains, there’s something perverse and wicked about the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 – a wild-looking SUV with a Hemi V8 that growls like a jungle cat and drinks 15 litres of fuel per 100km when driven with a light foot.

There is even a section in the trip computer that can time zero to 100km/h sprint and 100km/h to zero braking times... Can you imagine the Germans doing that?

SRT – Fiat Chrysler’s performance arm, and an abbreviation for Sports and Racing Technology – had an easier job making this generation SRT8 than with the last one, because the current Grand Cherokee is an accomplished car to begin with.

But this is a company that trades in excess, hence the 6.4-litre Hemi V8, Bilstein shocks, mammoth Brembo brakes, a menacing bodykit and leather bucket seats as supportive as a best friend in a crisis.

Our drive day took in a good dose of winding tarmac, high-speed cruising and time spent on a closed circuit – although, the closest we got to an off-road surface was some occasional slippery gravel. It may be trail-rated, but it’s hard to picture many SRT8s venturing off the beaten path.

Far and away the star of the show was the 344kW/624Nm engine, sufficient to not only give the circa-2300 kg Jeep sportscar acceleration – a colleague cracked a 5.3 second 0-100km/h sprint on their first go – but a sonorous soundtrack to accompany it.

Those mammoth 380mm front/350mm rear Brembo vented discs haul the car up with aplomb, too.

We found this out the hard way, approaching a deceptive little left-hander with too much heat, but our worries we soon put to rest.

On paper, the five-speed automatic may be short a ratio or two, but the excess of torque is enough to smooth this over in such a way that the paddles become essentially meaningless. Changing manually – particularly from first to second – is rough as guts without acclimatisation.

It wasn’t until we hit the track that we noticed any difference brought on by the various driving ‘modes’, at which point the Sport and Track settings noticeably crisped-up the gear changes and firmed the dampers.

While firm in these modes, the ride is never harsh – thank the partial Mercedes M-Class underpinnings – and the cabin is kept free of much road noise from the low-profile Pirelli rubber, as would be expected from what pitched as both a bruiser and a cruiser.

But while the SRT8 may go close to the best Germany has to offer – think high-end Porsche Cayennes and BMW X5s – for straight line pace, it doesn’t have the dynamism on winding roads. This is a muscle car on stilts, not a coupe-style driving experience in an SUV body.

The large – and heated! – steering wheel offers very little immediately from centre, but then sharpens up almost alarmingly from a quarter-turn, while the hydraulic system doesn’t modulate its feel as speeds rise like a sportscar should.

As a result, the big Jeep can feel a bit unruly at speed, with its propensity to bounce around on bumpy roads combining unfavourably with this inert steering feel. But then, we might be straying away from the point here – this is a big American SUV after all.

The cabin is excellent, with tactile surfaces, sumptuous seats – featuring potent heating and cooling functions in the front and rear – and a metric-ton of standard features including adaptive cruise control, a huge sound system and satellite navigation.

There is also plenty of legroom and headroom in the back, and a large cargo area with an automatic tailgate and a full-size spare under the loading floor. The SRT may be the only car we know of with both run-flat tyres AND a full-size spare wheel.

It’s a shame Jeep haven’t fitted the large and intuitive central screen from the Chrysler 300 though, because the unit in the Jeep feels clunky and cheap by comparison.

Overall, though, the SRT8 does exactly what it needs to. It can prowl the promenades with the best of them, and provides the kind of theatre normally the province of something wild and Italian, and back this up with levels of pace and luxury that are a steal from $76k.

This car is about drama, and if you can afford a ticket to the show – and those fuel bills – you’ll have a blast.

Pic below courtesy of Dan Gardner.

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